The very factors that have many consumers worried about affording this year’s tax bill could actually work in their favor this tax season.
Taxpayers whose wages were slashed in 2008 — or worse, who were laid off — may be eligible for tax credits that weren’t within their reach in previous years. In addition, first-time home buyers and parents of children under age 17 may also be able to save a little money on their tax bill thanks to some new credits and thresholds.
“These overlooked credits are relevant in the current economy and could mean the difference in hundreds or even thousands of dollars in your tax refund,” says John Evans, Northeast tax director at BDO Seidman.
Here are four credits that can help boost your refund.
Recovery Rebate Credit
Feel like you got shortchanged last year when the government doled out its Economic Stimulus Act rebate checks? Well, if you didn’t qualify for the rebate before or didn’t receive the full amount ($600 per taxpayer and $1,200 if married and filing jointly) because your income was too high (or too low), you may now be able to collect.
The rebate checks that were sent out last year were based on information on your 1040 for 2007. This second chance to collect will be based on your 2008 1040. So if your income took a hit last year, it may be worth a shot. You can also qualify for this credit if you had a child in 2008, among other reasons.
First-Time Homeowner Credit
For those who bought a home last year or want to in the months ahead, Uncle Sam has a little present for you. This tax credit, essentially a temporary, no-interest loan, is being offered to those who bought — or will buy — a home between April 9, 2008, and June 30, 2009, and who didn’t own a home during the three years preceding the purchase.
The maximum amount of the credit equals either 10% of the home’s price or $7,500 ($3,750 if you are married, but filing separately), whichever is less. One hitch: Homeowners will have to repay the credit over 15 years by either owing more in taxes or receiving a smaller refund. So, if you claim the credit on your 2008 tax return, you’ll have to start repaying it when you file your taxes for 2009. (The 2009 tax return will include an extra line for this credit.)
Child Tax Credit
Many parents will be eligible to receive a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child this year as long as that child was under the age of 17 at the end of 2008. (This credit is in addition to the regular $3,500 exemption that you can claim for each dependent.)
The child tax credit begins phasing out for filers whose modified adjusted gross income is above $110,000 if they are married and filing jointly, above $75,000 for single filers, or more than $55,000 for married filing separately. In addition, the child (who can also be the filer’s sibling, stepchild, grandchild, niece or nephew) must have not provided more than half of his or her own support and, in most cases, must have lived with the filer for more than half of 2008.
The one catch: The amount you receive from the child tax credit is partly based on your income so you may not receive the full amount — or possibly anything. If you don’t qualify for any or all of the $1,000 child tax credit you’re still in luck. Try applying for the additional child tax credit, which also offers up to $1,000 per qualifying child. (Taxpayers who qualify for parts of both credits can only receive a maximum of $1,000 per eligible child.) Typically, this credit is reserved for low-income taxpayers, but a recent change in the way the IRS computes eligibility for this credit, will allow more middle-income taxpayers to qualify this year, says Eric Smith, a spokesman for the IRS.
Earned Income Tax Credit
This credit is typically geared toward low-income taxpayers, but given the rise in the unemployment rate and wage cuts, more people are likely to qualify for it this year, says Evans. (According to the IRS, one in six taxpayers currently can claim this credit.)
To qualify, families with two or more children must have made less than $41,646 in 2008, and those with one child must have earned less than $36,995. Also, individuals without children who make less than $15,880 are eligible.
The maximum credit for each of these groups is $4,824, $2,917 and $438, respectively.
Taxpayers who qualify to claim this credit on their federal income tax return may also be eligible for a similar credit on their state or local income tax return. Twenty-two states, including New York, Maryland and Iowa, offer residents an earned income tax credit.
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